Monday, December 17, 2018

Best Animated Short 2018 - The Shortlist

Back in September, Cartoon Brew posted a list of films that had qualified for the Best Animated Short Oscar, either through winning festivals or Student Academy Awards or through public exhibition. Rather than post the entire list which is what Cartoon Brew already did, I eulogized Will Vinton instead. I decided to wait until the shortlist was announced before writing about them. Traditionally the shortlist had been announced at the end of November, but that day came and went with no announcement. Last year the announcement was announced on December 4, but that day came and went. I waited and waited and kept trying to find as many of the qualifying films as possible. At last, the Academy dropped the shortlist for nine different categories, including Best Animated Short. We finally have a list of the films that would be competing for the Best Animated Short Oscar!

Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew criticized the shortlist as being a "weak reflection of the state of contemporary animation short-form filmmaking," pointing out that the fact that the majority of the most critically acclaimed and artistic films were left off in favor of popular fare made by large studios. He may have a point, but unfortunately that had been a trend that had been going on for several years, and it would probably get even worse as the Academy opens voting for the category to every eligible voter, and not just voters in the animation branch. Meanwhile we get a lineup of films that has popular appeal, which may appeal to the public, but not necessarily to animation connoisseurs. Oh well. Here are the films on the shortlist. I'll refrain from posting a full review even if it's a film I've seen. I'll post the full film if it is available.

Age of Sail
John Kahrs won an Oscar back in 2012 for the short film Paperman, a film which featured traditional hand drawn textures on 3D CGI models. Since then he had left Disney and had been working on his own projects. One of these projects is Age of Sail, a film made for Google Spotlight Films, which had also featured the Oscar nominated Pearl. The highlight of the Google Spotlight Films is that it gives viewers the opportunity to view an entire animated world, which can be understandably exhilarating, but for the purposes of these films they present a pre-cut version with set camera angles. That takes away from some of the mystique. Age of Sail refers to a period when sailing ships were the primary method of naval transport, as this is set in the dying days when the sailboats were mostly replaced by large steamships. This film tells the tale of an old sailboat captain and a woman he rescued that had fallen overboard. It is quite dialogue-heavy for a Google Spotlight Story, but the action sequences were fairly well done. This is a film that is available in its entirety online.

Animal Behaviour
Alison Snowden and David Fine is husband and wife animation duo that had won the Academy Award in this category for Bob's Birthday. This in turn spawned a popular TV series starring the main characters titled Bob and Margaret. In the middle of the series' run the pair emigrated to Canada where they got to enjoy the support of the Canadian government through the National Film Board of Canada. After several years of contributing to the popular television series "Peppa Pig," Snowden and Fine come back with their first new film in several years: Animal Behaviour. This film is set within a partially anthropomorphic universe where animals walk and talk but do not wear any clothes. Because they have the power of voice, they do have complex psychological issues. This film features a canine psychologist Dr. Clement leading a group therapy session with a large group of animals that eventually go awry. Animal Behaviour gets bonus points for featuring My Little Pony siblings Ryan Beil as the canine therapist and Andrea Libman as a mantis with a penchant for social media and eating her mates.The full film is not available yet, but given the fact it is sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada, we can only hope it would by Oscar time.

This is probably the one film that had been viewed by more people than any other of the shortlisted films. This is the film that played in front of Disney / Pixar's latest animated masterpiece Incredibles 2, which grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide. Bao tells the story of a Chinese-Canadian mother who lives a lonely life until one of her dumplings (bao zi, thus the name Bao) comes to life. The mother adopts the dumpling as her own son, but as the dumpling boy grows up she must come to terms with her loneliness. Bao was directed by Pixar animator Domee Shi, who is herself Chinese-Canadian. She based the mother character on her own mother and contrasts the Chinese theme of family with the Western ideal of personal independence. The highly metaphorical nature of the film left a lot of viewers in the US somewhat lost, but it still goes into humanistic themes that can be seen in a lot of Pixar films.

DreamWorks is a major movie studio whose animation department had long been famous for feature films such as Shrek and Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. Recently they had branched off and had set up a branch to specialize in making short films. One of their first films to be created is Bilby. Bilbies are a type of rodent-like marsupial that lives in Australia, and judging from the only footage that had been released online it is probably about a bilky likely named Bilby. Evidently this short film is based off of a feature film project titled Larrikins that was supposed to have been made by Tim Minchin, the Australian entertainer who served as the narrator for the Oscar winning short film The Lost Thing. The project was revived as this short film. I have no idea when it is going to play or how we would see it, but it impressed the Academy enough to get it on the shortlist.

Bird Karma
Bilby was not the only DreamWorks short film that made it onto the shortlist. Another DreamWorks short titled Bird Karma had also made it onto a shortlist. It is quite different stylistically from the CGI Bilby. Bird Karma was done completely by hand, which has become increasingly rare in today's animation environment. It apparently tells the story of a bird that chases after a fish, but something apparently happens that would invoke "karma," which is a Sanskrit term that refers to a deed, but in modern usage has come to embody the phrase "You get what you give." The short footage that has been released online suggests that it is set to a bouncy Indian music. Unfortunately we aren't given any more information about when it would be released, but it has also made it onto the shortlist, so I hope it will be soon.

Late Afternoon
An elderly lady sits in her easy chair. She sits and thinks about her past life experiences, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that there is a disconnect between what she is reliving in her mind and what she is experiencing in the present. Late Afternoon is an Irish film that addresses a topic that has become increasingly important in modern day health care: dementia. This is not the first time dementia has been a focal point of an Oscar shortlisted film, as The Head Vanishes from two years ago tells the story of a demented lady on a trip to the beach. Late Afternoon is fairly different stylistically from the earlier film, using a softer look that seems more similar to the style of Alison Snowden and David Fine. Perhaps that would give it more of an emotional impact, but I wouldn't know.

Lost & Found
Lost & Found tells the story of a knitted dinosaur and his companion a knitted fox that live in a Japanese restaurant, possibly in Australia (considering this film was made in Australia.) When the fox gets into an accident, the dinosaur must do whatever it takes to save the life of his beloved. This film had reached a small level of viral-ness when it was posted online a week and a half ago. The heart-rendering story certainly helps, but one cannot deny the technology and artistry that went into making this film, which is completely stop motion. The entire film is available online, but we are unable to embed it in this blog spot. I do highly recommend that you head over to the film's website now and check it out, and you can also see some of the clever For Your Consideration advertisements the film's producers have made.

One Small Step
Okay, I'll admit that One Small Step was a film that I was glad made it onto the shortlist. The film tells the story of a Chinese American girl named Luna who has a great fascination in the space. Her father who is a shoemaker helps her along the way. As she grows up she pursues her astronaut dreams, but it is much more difficult than she can imagine. Meanwhile her father never leaves her side, until one day he does. One Small Step is a Chinese-American co-production. The story may be somewhat cliched, but it does tell it in a way that is heartwarming and doesn't feel forced. It is an artistic masterpiece? Not necessarily, but as the son of a Chinese-American immigrant whose parents had made untold sacrifices in allowing me to reach my dreams this film does resonate with me.

Pepe le Morse (Grandpa Walrus)
Lucas is a young boy whose grandfather had just died while he is sunbathing on a beach. Not long after his funeral he and his dysfunctional family including his mother, grandmother, and three siblings travel to the beach where he spent most of his time and eventually died. As the day goes by the family experiences increasingly bizarre events. Pepe le Morse is a film from French animator Lucrece Andreae. This was one film that had been represented in Cartoon Brew's prediction from industry professionals. It is a highly surreal film that hearkens back to the films of another great French animator in Sylvain Chomet, whose films include the Oscar nominated The Old Lady and the Pigeons. I was a bit surprised it made the shortlist given that it is so different thematically from Oscar's normal fare, but we could always use a bit of the surreal in this category.

A young boy whose parents have divorced spends most of the week living with his mother, but on weekends he goes to live with his father. As he travels back and forth between parents he begins to realize the reality of living in a broken home. Weekends is a film by Trevor Jimenez, who works as a storyboard artist for Pixar and Disney, having done work on films like Coco and Ralph Breaks the Internet. During his free time he created a semi-autobiographical film that became Weekends. In this way he is very much like the directors of Borrowed Time and The Dam Keeper, both of which were made by animators working on huge studio blockbusters. Both of those other films received Oscar nominations. Weekends was the one shortlisted film that was named by the most of Cartoon Brew's critics. Would that be enough for an Oscar nomination? Who knows?


One of these things I've noticed is that a good half of the films received inspiration from Asian culture. Bao and One Small Step discussed Chinese families living in Canada and America respectively. Lost & Found was set within a Japanese restaurant. Bird Karma makes use of the Hindu concept and uses Indian music. And the father in Weekends is shown to have a lot of Japanese decor. Does that mean anything? Not necessarily. The nominees for this category is exceedingly hard to predict. I think I'll focus my time on trying to track down the other five shortlisted films rather than make a prediction which would most likely be wrong. Meanwhile you can discuss the films in the comments below. At least it'll make me believe people are actually reading.


  1. RIP Borge Ring: :'(

  2. Animal Behavior
    Late Afternoon
    One Small Step